Zachary Calo has posted a very generous review of The Tragedy of Religious Freedom. Zak’s penetrating criticisms of the book are well worth reading and thinking over. In particular, the interaction of theology and law is a theme that he himself has been developing over the years in superb writing. And I am coming to agree that it would have done the book some good to explore those issues more explicitly. But at any rate I am grateful to Zak for pressing these points in such a characteristically thoughtful and well-crafted way. Here is a bit from the review:
If the book does not fully diagnose the problem, it is also arguable that the logic animating the method of tragedy and history does not fully respond to the present situation. In particular, it might be that a full response needs illumina- tion from theology. Such an impulse seems at time present in the book. There are echoes of transcendence in DeGirolami’s account of tragedy and history, but the book contains unexploited resources for drawing a theological imaginary more fully into the jurisprudential task.
His account of tragedy…rests on the insight that we inhabit a moral universe in which it is not possible to fully instantiate moral goods. Yet in so proposing, DeGirolami is not simply commenting on the quandaries of practi- cal ethics, but describing what it means to act responsibly, to judge rightly and prudently, in a world defined by such limits. A jurisprudence grounded not in abstract principle, but in the lived experience of the world, cannot but confront the need to make tragic choices. “In law,” DeGirolami writes, “it is necessary that one side win and the other lose, yet the inevitability of loss does not preclude choice.” Law, DeGirolami adds, might even be “centrally about the sacrifices entailed by choice making” (p. 99). In encountering such language, one thinks of Augustine’s judge in Book 19 of City of God. Confronted by the “darkness” of making tragic choices, the judge yearns to escape the misery of the office. Yet, impelled by duty, the judge submits to unhappiness, executes the violent decisions of law, and cries out to God with the Psalmist “From my necessities deliver Thou me.” Tragedy finds a paradoxical if limited coherence only within this divine economy. Though DeGirolami never frames his account of tragedy on such express theological turns, an Augustinian impulse never seems far from the surface of his account.
Some interesting law & religion stories from around the web this week:
- On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which concerns the constitutionality of prayers at local government meetings. It is the first time in 30 years that the Supreme Court has taken a case involving legislative prayer
- Christians on a committee rewriting Egypt’s constitution threatened to walk out on Thursday after disputes over portions dealing with Islamic Law
- On Tuesday, The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Pakistan declared that human cloning and sex change are un-Islamic acts, but that test tube babies are allowed under certain conditions
- A Minneapolis-area school bus driver was fired after leading children in Christian prayers on his bus. He is also a pastor and claims he has been praying with children without incident for many years
- The Illinois House has approved a bill to allow gay marriage. The bill will now go to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he will sign it into law
- A New Jersey couple is suing Governor Chris Christie, claiming the state’s law banning gay conversion therapy violates their constitutional rights to free speech, religious freedom, and the equal protection of the laws, because it prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son
- The New Jersey school district that banned religious Christmas carols last week has reversed its decision. School children will now be allowed to sing pieces with traditional and historical religious origins
- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of the owners of Freshway Foods, who objected to providing insurance coverage for their employees for contraception, sterilization, and abortion. The court ruled against the corporations, who have asked the Supreme Court to take the case
- China claims it will stamp out the voice of the Dalai Lama in Tibet
- Later this month, Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin
- Last weekend, over 4,500 rabbis gathered in Brooklyn for the Annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries
This November, Oxford University Press will publish Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism by Molly Worthen (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The publisher’s description follows.
In Apostles of Reason, Molly Worthen offers a sweeping intellectual history of modern American evangelicalism. Traditionally, evangelicalism has been seen as a cohesive—indeed almost monolithic—religious movement. Sometimes, religion drops out of the picture and evangelicalism is treated strictly as a political force. Worthen argues that these views are false. Evangelicalism is, rather, a community of believers preoccupied by shared anxieties. Evangelicals differ from one another on the details of their ideas about God and humankind, but three elemental concerns unite them: how to reconcile faith and reason; how to know Jesus; and how to act on faith in a secularized public square. In combination, under the pressures of modernity, and in the absence of a guiding authority capable of resolving uncertainties and disagreements, these anxieties have shaped evangelicals into a distinctive spiritual community.
This November, Oxford University Press will publish Understanding Human Dignity edited by Christopher McCrudden (Queen’s University Belfast). The publisher’s description follows.
Understanding Human Dignity aims to help the reader make sense of current debates about the meaning and implications of the idea of human dignity. The concept of human dignity has probably never been so omnipresent in everyday speech, or so deeply embedded in political and legal discourse. In debates on torture, abortion, same-sex marriage, and welfare reform, appeals to dignity are seldom hard to find. The concept of dignity is not only a prominent feature of political debate, but also, and increasingly, of legal argument. Indeed, courts tell us that human dignity is the foundation of all human rights. But the more important it is, the more contested it seems to have become. There has, as a result, been an extraordinary explosion of scholarly writing about the concept of human dignity in law, political philosophy, and theology. This book aims to reflect on these intra-disciplinary debates about dignity in law, philosophy, history, politics, and theology, through a series of edited essays from specialists in these fields, explored the contested concept in its full richness and complexity.